What unnameable would throw this on the floor,
noon refracted through blue windows
here, Newark Airport, first day of summer,
my flight cancelled, no new flight in sight—
this slice of cerulean, unwavering, clear blue
more indescribable for never being asked for?
The term “demographic threat” is the language that justifies ethnic cleansing, transfer, ghettoization, siege, exclusion, refugee camps, and displacement and separation. As such, it is the term that distills the logic of Zionism’s approach to non-Jews.
This language has pretty dark connotations in the US, echoing Southern antebellum fears of slave revolts in areas where blacks outnumbered the white agrarian class. In today’s America, if figures as extreme as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck were to say outright that we must stop the Mexicans or Muslims or what have you from staying in the US because they’re having too many babies and we’ll lose the character of white Christian America by 2050, they’d face serious consequences. You can be a bigot in the US, but you can’t come out and openly declare your support for racial nationalism. Only Zionists get to proclaim their fear of a brown planet while simultaneously maintaining a patina of liberal respectability.
- Guernica: How is immigration informing new social movements today? Is it giving people a different perspective on what national borders and national identity mean, as they relate to a new, more global sense of social change?
- Grace Lee Boggs: I think the mass expansion of the Asian-American population, particularly the Chinese population, is having an impact. I would not be surprised if [New York City Mayor Bill] de Blasio was challenged by a Chinese competitor in the next election, because the Chinese population in New York is so huge. New York has become almost a third-world country. When I was growing up it was mostly a Euro-American country. And it wasn’t until LaGuardia was elected in 1933 that Italians were even considered Americans.
- We’re at a great transition point in terms of population, demographics, and what it means to be a human being.
- Guernica: I like that definition of what writing is to you—“a lovely labor in problem solving.” You’ve worked in investment banking and human rights. You’ve studied mathematics, among other pursuits. Have these fed into how you solve problems on the page?
- Zia Haider Rahman: The banking and human rights had a direct effect in terms of content, although of course only certain aspects of those experiences earned a space in the book. The mathematics is the odd one, odd because I’m not sure how to measure its effect. It is so fundamental to my outlook on everything and yet I’m not even sure how. It must be because in my formative years it was everything to me, the single place of beauty in my life, and of breathtaking beauty at that. I still believe that pure mathematics is the most creative thing that humanity does, though I am no longer a part of it.
- The mathematical tilt remains basic to my epistemological perspective, my howling plea in the still of night for epistemic humility. Mathematics gave me that as, also, did the difficulty I had in talking to my parents. How proofs are conceived is unfathomable. Clearly, there are certain conditions in which the revelation takes place. You have to think and think, then try some thinking or take another approach, and think. And did I tell you that you have to think again? But then zap! Suddenly a proof appears. It’s like a magic trick. Except it’s not, because in a magic trick the magician knows where the rabbit came from. It’s a magic trick in which even the magician doesn’t know how she did it.
Unlike other subcultures—skinheads, Teddy Boys, and Rude Boys in Britain; hippies, Beats, and bikers in the States—mods were something radically different: in their bespoke suits and careful haberdashery, they looked sharp because, to some extent, they were desirous of great things. Like we conference-goers aim to be, they were professional. Indeed, mods had jobs (remember “Billy Hunt”?). And unlike so many later subcultures that announced themselves in absolutely oppositional terms—punks, say, whose aggressively shredded look served as a general fuck you—mods didn’t hide the fact that they shopped, and cared about what they bought. While they attacked middle-class office drudgery and lily-white respectability, they also rejected a rigid British class system that denied them access to a life of consumer luxuries and services—a life brimming with the very stuff work would enable them to purchase. Mods were, in short, a half-rebellious youth subculture that kept one eye trained on the rewards of adulthood. Mostly working-class kids, they railed against the system because, deep down, they wanted their share of its bounty.
A Public Security Bureau officer banged on the bus doors and pulled himself inside. They’d been creeping through the mountains since midday and it was getting dark. Even if their driver had his papers in order, and enough for a bribe, it wasn’t likely he’d be able to get the battered green school bus moving again. They’d barely been moving as it was. The engine had cooked itself miles ago. It gave off raw grinding yowls when forced into a lower gear. It yowled when they climbed. It yowled on the short level stretches. Its shocks had been cut from granite.
Only on the downhills did they make any speed, and then the driver didn’t so much steer as ride the thing like a brakeless train, flying around corners, the doors flapping open, blasts of icy wind washing through the cabin, tires making that horrible ripping sound on the pavement that it seems can only be followed by the dead silence of their complete detachment from the road. In the mountains, everyone drove like this, all over the road, drunk on the freedom of locomotion, but there was an element of pragmatism to their fear of low speeds. In a head-on collision, speed gave them a survival advantage, their momentum propelling them, like a plow parting sod, through a slower, ascending party. The hulks of buses driven by the slow and unlucky lay in nests of shredded trees down in the valley.
Feature image by Yun Fei Ji
Poetry, like the imagination itself, must be limitless. And there must be other ways of expressing the inexpressible, which is what—poetry is just that. Prose is about what can be said and what is known and so on. Poetry is about what cannot be expressed. I mean, terrible grief, or intense erotic feeling, or even unspeakable anger are all inexpressible. You can’t put them in words and that’s why you try to put them in words. Because that’s all you’ve got.
This fall Guernica will be celebrating our 10th Anniversary and publishing our first print edition, The Guernica Annual. Come celebrate the little magazine that could by hanging with us at our favorite bar on a summer day, listening to the musical tastes of our literary friends, playing shuffleboard, drinking beer & wine, and getting down with your bad self! Dogs and human friends welcome, so get the gang together and come on down!
Tickets will go up to $25 at the door, so get yours here!
If you’re not free, then mentally and consciously, it’s very hard to write.